Science fiction does have a tendency to promote certain scientific misconceptions, such as explosions making sounds in space. Such examples, however, don’t necessarily have to result in confusion. Science teachers can encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to identify errors.
Jordi Solbes Matarredona
A new study conducted at the University of Valencia
has revealed that whilst science fiction – especially that of the cinema – is popular amongst Spanish secondary school students, it is not being referenced effectively by educators. The findings, which have been published in the journal Enseñanza de las Ciencias
, show that of the 31 science textbooks analysed by researchers, only nine made any reference to science fiction cinema as a teaching resource.
The authors of the study gauged the popularity of science fiction amongst pupils by sending a questionnaire to 173 participants from both urban and rural areas of Spain. Respondents referenced Star Wars
, The Matrix
, I Robot
and The Day After Tomorrow
in their answers. The team also found that teachers view the genre positively, yet these opinions a not being utilised in science teaching.
To find out more about the largely untapped educational resource offered by science fiction, I spoke to Jordi Solbes Matarredona, one of the study’s authors from the University’s Department of Teaching and Experimental Social Sciences…
In what ways do you think that science fiction can motivate and facilitate the learning of science in schools?
The number of pupils studying science is decreasing (Rocard 2007
). Whilst this is a multicausal phenomenon, I think that it is mainly influenced by the way in which science is taught. Other influences include the different ways in which boys and girls learn and the public image of science. In order to avoid such problems, we need to use the available resources to increase interest, understanding and participation in science. Science fiction is one such resource that can be used to make science more attractive.
In your study, you found that some pupils confused science fiction and magic. Do you think there is any risk of confusing these pupils further by referencing science fiction within their education?
Our article, ’La ciencia ficción y la enseñanza de las ciencias’
, shows that many pupils already possess a knowledge of science fiction, especially through cinema. Science fiction does have a tendency to promote certain scientific misconceptions, such as explosions making sounds in space. Such examples, however, don’t necessarily have to result in confusion. Science teachers can encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to identify errors. Similarly, pupils could engage in activities in which they have to distinguish between fantasy and magic, and science fiction.
To what extent is science fiction guilty of portraying scientists in a bad light? Do you think that authors and directors should include more positive attitudes in their works?
48 per cent of the pupils that we surveyed said that science fiction presented a distorted, exaggerated or unfavourable image of scientists. Even so, science fiction is not the only problem. Young people are also put off by the media and by boring, difficult and elitist science teaching. There are plenty of science fiction books and films, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey
, that are well advised and do not portray scientists in a bad light. Whilst authors and directors must be afforded artistic licence, it is always a good idea for them to seek scientific advice.
Is it important to tailor science fiction references to the interests of pupils?
It is very important for educators to take the interests of their students into account. Neuroscientific studies have demonstrated that without motivation, there is no attention, and if you don’t have your students’ attention, you will not achieve any reflection or understanding. It is therefore most effective to reference science fiction that is familiar to your pupils.
How can teachers use their own experiences of science fiction to more effectively communicate science in schools?
Teachers could show film clips that include serious scientific mistakes, such as the crews of spacecraft moving with gravity. They could then point out the differences between these cinematic portrayals and what would happen in reality. Conversely, teachers might choose to show clips that include more realistic images, such as Contact
’s inclusion of female scientists or the weightlessness portrayed in 2001: A Space Odyssey
. The main point is that science fiction can be used to encourage pupils to take a greater interest in scientific subject areas.